As I have already mentioned here, I have recently returned from my first sermon planning retreat and wanted to share some of my insights and learnings. First let me share with you some of the logistics and then outline how I structured my time. I should also add that my spouse traveled with me, using our time away for her own work, writing, and 2014 planning. Though she may not always be able to go with me in the future, I found that her company during our shared times of prayer, breaks, and meals was a welcome break and made the experience even more enjoyable!
I explored multiple options from nearby spiritual retreat centers to vacation homes of friends and generous parishioners. Those sites may will be in my future, but this time Denise and I decided on a B&B Inn one county away from where we live; one that was able to put us up in a detached cottage on the grounds , enabling some extra privacy from the main house. We know the family who owns and operates the inn, so arranging an extra evening meal to go with our breakfast was easily accomplished and kept us from worrying about meal times. Another plus, not available at some retreat centers, was access to broad band internet. Though a lot of my time was spent “disconnected,” I have to admit that my familiar pattern of writing and research almost always includes a laptop complete with several “go to” tabs open in my browser: blue letter bible (my online lexicon), dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, bible gateway (access to multiple translations with a single click), and a google search page for researching other topics or related subjects.
While I was busy writing, my wife was able to take some of these pictures of the inn and the grounds around the place where we stayed. Being surrounded by the beauty of creation is always a plus for any place where one might decide to devote time to prayer and planning.
Pre-retreat planning and prep:
Again, thanks to my wife – I was first required to read this blog post by Dr. Lenny Luchetti that she found online (for those who know me well, she really is the brains behind this whole operation). I was grateful for his advice. One of his points that might appear obvious but proved invaluable to my process was to take multiple calendars: one that included all the secular holidays and local school dates; one church calendar with all the high holy days and seasons, including any local church celebrations or annual observances; and another one that contained my family’s personal calendar. Though some of these calendars are digitized for us (my congregation and my family both use layered google calendars), I also discovered that a paper calendar to look at, flip through, and scribble notes on was helpful.
Prior to leaving, I also did some pre-retreat sermon idea brainstorming – writing down anything and everything that might be a possible theme, idea, series, or topic worth considering. I also placed a sermon suggestion box outside my church study and posted an online version here, in a previous blog post. Though I didn’t pack much by way of clothes, I did fill the car with books, resources, several bibles, my Asus pad (for any digital books needed), my laptop, and a few items for a prayer station (some votive candles, a cross, and a prayer book).
The Retreat Schedule:
4:00 PM – Arrival and settling in
4:30-5:30 PM – Calendaring together with my spouse. Denise and I spent this hour looking at every month of 2014 in some detail, deciding on vacation time, special events, church observances, and integrating all of our various church, family, and community activities into one place. My staff may remember this period of time because I reached out to them via text/email to ask for tentative dates for next year’s youth and children’s Sundays (something I will remember to do prior to leaving next time!).
5:30 – 6:30 PM – Evening Prayer – We used The Book of Common Worship Daily Prayer Book after setting up this small worship station in our room. During our time of intercession, we took a lot of time praying for our congregation specifically – each ministry, Sunday School Class, LIFE group, staff member, committee, team, and family that came to mind, utilizing our bulletin prayer list and the church directory to aid us in a wonderful time of intercession. I believe this time was probably some of the best preparation for the next day that we engaged in.
7:00 PM – Dinner and the rest of the evening was spent relaxing and reading. One of my reading resources throughout the retreat was Wesley sermons. I started this evening with the first of his 13 discourses on The Sermon on the Mount.
6:00 – 6:30 AM – Morning Prayer together using the Book of Common Worship.
6:30 – 8:00 AM – Began outlining a series I already knew I wanted to include somewhere in 2014. For each series or season, my goal was to outline a theme, write a short paragraph synopsis about what that series theme was seeking to address, determine the number of sermons I might include in the series, and jot down scripture lessons and possible titles for each sermon.
8:00 AM – Breakfast and Break
8:45 AM – 3:00 PM – Found my zone. Though I think my wife took a break for lunch, she left me to my writing and reflection. After the wonderful breakfast we had enjoyed, I knew I probably wouldn’t need anything much to eat until dinner anyway. This kind of thing might not work for everyone, but once I find the zone, I try to stay in it until my body or my mind tells me to take a break.
3:00 – 4:00 PM – Took a walk in the gardens with my spouse; lounged at length together in a two-person hammock, and thought about very little related to sermon prep and planning for about an hour (though I did briefly summarize my progress to my spouse since she was interested in knowing how it was all going).
4:00 – 6:30 PM – Began to calendar in my series, in many cases including some suggested graphics, titles, and series titles in my work (we use sharefaith.com for a lot of our graphics for both power point and advertisement). When dinner time had arrived, I had at least a skeleton outline for every Sunday in 2014.
6:30 – 8:00 PM – Dinner at a leisure pace with a sense of accomplishment (a sense that sometimes feels like a rarity in the pastoral profession)!
8:00 PM – Evening Prayer – Book of Common Worship
6:00 AM – Morning Prayer
6:30 – 8:30 AM – Compiling all my work into a Word document so that I can share the result of my planning with staff, worship team, and music teams upon my return – each season, series with a title, sermon plans, scripture (a few holes in some places still to be completed later), and a synopsis/rationale to guide our creative teams.
8:30 AM – Breakfast
9:30 – 11:00 AM – Continued compilation, tweaks, and sought to include accompanying resources, books, and possible LIFE group studies, DVDs, and other materials that might assist both worship team and small group breakouts for each series.
11:00 AM – Departure
A few more things I learned:
- The best time to plan your next sermon planning retreat is when you are on your current one, looking at your calendar and planning ahead – finding the best time that makes sense for the rhythms your family and church.
- Scheduling retreats more often means I can tackle smaller portions of the calendar at a time, or as I plan to do in January – I can zoom in on one particular series that I am writing myself to put meat on the bones (rather than some other series that follows a book or suggested series format).
- Prayer is essential – with a special emphasis on intercession for the community that will be hearing the sermons you are planning. This prayer time also has the extra benefit of keeping the special needs and context of your parishioner’s lives in the forefront of your mind as you prayerfully approach the Word.